This is a remarkable true story of a church on the verge of ruin that managed to come back to life by restoring the focus of the church on the sacred, on the Mass, on the transcendent. We have much to learn by the experience of St. John Cantius,
Note: We are confessing Lutherans. We are well-aware of the theological differences between Rome and Augsburg. Snark and trolling comments will not be published.
The Rev. Gaven Mize, pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, NC is the father of a newborn.
And he is already thinking about catechesis.
Father Mize and his wife Ashlee have actually been teaching their son Oliver already - as have parents of all the little ones in the parish - by means of the liturgy: the perfect vehicle to teach the very young. Especially for infants and children, learning is experiential and multi-sensory, embedding sights, sounds, and smells into the minds of the faithful from the start. In the church, we have songs and gestures and brightly colored things to see. Movement, music, and repetition grab and hold the attention of the little ones - even when we may not think they are really learning at all. When they are brought to the communion rail, their eyes grow large as they see grownups kneel and reverently receive Jesus, and the pastor traces a cross upon their foreheads and blesses them as they look around and see majestic crosses and crucifixes and exotic Greek letters and captivating art depicting our Lord and flickering candles. They drink it all in, Sunday after Sunday, and grow into the liturgy as they hear the Scriptures and sermons and are taught to pray by their parents. The church's liturgy is the children's teacher.
We confess that "ceremonies are needed for this reason alone, that the uneducated be taught what they need to know about Christ" (AC 24:3).
Along with illustrator Ryan Porter, Father Mize has authored an elegant and welcoming book for the littlest catechumens in our midst: My Little ABC Liturgy Book.
Using the alphabet as a foil (which itself reminds us that our Lord is the Word), Mize gives the children a tour of the Divine Service, beginning with "A is for Altar" - not only teaching liturgical vocabulary to the children, but showing them what these words mean in their context within the church's culture and worship.
The illustrations are bright and colorful without being garish or cartoonish. Here we see vestments proclaiming Christ instead of veggies telling a tale. The children are shown ecclesiastical architecture and furnishings, books and candles and fonts and censors and symbols of our Lord that their young eyes will be trained to joyfully recognize in person on Sunday morning. The pages show a pastor and his assistants carrying out their work to bring Jesus to the people, as well as families reverently worshiping together in the pews.
There are a few explanatory notes for the parents who themselves may not know why chasubles are worn or what the significance of frankincense is. There are also a few "Easter eggs" in the illustrations - such as the halo of Jesus that has the word "Logos" written in Greek. The words chosen and depicted are from the very best of our liturgical tradition and the book makes no apologies for doing so.
Pastor Mize and Mr. Porter have given the Lord's dear children a gift - which is in turn a vehicle to the gift of the liturgy, in which we receive Word and Sacrament, communion with the Most Holy Trinity, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My Little ABC Liturgy Book is set to be released some time before Easter and is being published and sold by Grail Quest Books. It will also be available on Amazon.